India — For the first time during the last five years, the Tirumala hills, which form a vital sector in the Seshachalam biosphere, has seen a series of forest fires, with hundreds of hectares burnt and highly endangered fauna species like the golden gecko and slender Loris dying.
After the devastating forest fire in Tirumala hills for three days between March 21 and 23, miscreants struck again at the vital forest belt close to the second Tirumala ghat road in the early hours of Sunday.
Being Sunday, the relaxed forest personnel did not notice the fire until it scaled the Sandralamitta zone and reached the Malwani Gundam point on the ridge facing Tirupati at around noon, gutting over 500 hectares, going as far as the 26th turning point of the ghat road.
Ironically, it was the forest officials of the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD), who informed the Tirupati wildlife zone authorities though the fire was spotted in the government reserve forest.
The DFO (TTD), Mr B. Sundar, confirmed that Sundays fire was a major one which had burnt a vast stretch of the forest. He said that TTD forest workers joined the reserve forest guards in fighting the fire. The official said that by 7 pm, the fire was brought under control to about 75%.
Red sander smugglers operating in the Seshachalam hill ranges have formed a cartel and are devising various schemes to hoodwink officials and carry out their job uninterruptedly. When the guards reach the affected spots, it is easier for them to lift the clandestine forest wealth and cross into Tamil Nadu, an official said.
Interestingly, forest officials who openly declared on March 21 last that the forest fire in the Tirumala hills was the result of arson by sanders smugglers were tightlipped on Sundays fire.